Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Money Thing - Part 2 of 4

Money is both a motivating and devastating part of life, particularly in the world of art and in the realm of Christianity.  A few years ago, a well-meaning ministry created a picture of two street signs, "Faith" and "Art", to demonstrate where faith and art intersect.  The distracting part was that the angle of the signs was such that all we could see was the word "Fart."  It was hilarious.  Oh how I wish I had saved that somewhere.  But I digress.  The intersection of faith and art should be quite beautiful and heartfelt, a peaceful and natural meeting.  Sadly, it ends up too often being a head-on collision of insecurity, low expectations and greed.  For purposes of this essay, we'll focus on greed.

PART TWO: Sorry, It's NOT All About the Benjamin, Baby

If you really are doing this for the money, this is your vocation and living, and there is no other motivation for doing what you do, then stop reading now, as this will likely be as foreign to you as putting a lobster on the moon.

A few months ago I posted a question to a small group of Christian artists I know, just asking what everyone was working on.  The responses were encouraging.  Some were working on multiple projects, to the point you wonder how we sleep.  Some were focused on getting one big piece done, some were shifting creative gears but were encouraged by the drive of others.

One said, "Waiting until I get a paying gig."


Recently, a brother that I had collaborated with in the past was issued a seemingly impossible challenge.  A small, non-profit publisher was looking to print an illustrated Bible, but with minimal funds available, the budget was so limited as to be practically non existent.  To add to the mix, the deadline was extremely short, and the quantity of illustrations was huge.  Basically, he was looking for over 200 illustrations with a budget that would not have even covered postage to send them.

OK, I'll admit, that's a huge undertaking and an extreme example, but he brought it before a Christian illustrators community and threw the challenge out there in complete honesty, with faith that some would rise to the challenge.  He'd probably have been better off not to even mention the budget - people seem to understand "free" but are insulted by "cheap."  But rather than just ignoring the request or politely turning it down, some used it as an opportunity to rebuke.  The ministry was accused of being "too cheap" in a sarcastic, snarky tone.  This was even better:

"it takes me about 8 hours to do one page. How could I explain this to my family? I don't want to sound harsh, but I cannot imagine this project working. You get what you pay for. Doing art for free usually means you will get students not pros."

Like he didn't know all that already, after being in the game for a decade.  The response clearly demonstrates a lack of faith and a refusal to work for free.  Eight hours.  Spread over two months, less than ten minutes a day.  Watch a few less sitcoms and drop the X-Box for a few days and you've got it.  

How do you explain this to your family?  Really?  "Honey, I'm drawing for a Bible and as a favor for a friend."  Done.  Do you even need to explain it to your family?  I don't know.  I've never had to explain to my wife why I just mowed my lawn and then moved on and did the neighbor's lawn too, or threw the weed whacker in the car and drove to my pastor's house, or why I'm doodling instead of watching some inane singing competition on TV.

Now, let me clarify, it's not wrong to get paid for something, or to want to get paid for something.  Money is a good thing and it can be used for a lot of great stuff.  Artwork, in particular commissions and volunteer work, are still very laborious, and can even be expensive to complete. A lot of time goes in to doing a piece right.

Let me also clarify that someone asking someone to pour a significant amount of resources into a piece of art should weigh that and find a way to pay accordingly if at all possible.  AT ALL possible.  I hear all the time how people have no money, as they walk out of Game Stop with a new $60 video game while texting on their iPhone and climbing into a car also beyond their means to go buy a carton of cigarettes before heading out to a concert, movie or ball game.  Oh, don't worry, I'll get to YOU later.

I've heard many Christians from the money camp belch out the partial verse from Luke 10:17, "...for the worker deserves his wages..."  But first let's look at that in context, shall we?  Jesus was giving instructions to His disicples on how to go about evangelizing.  So let's look at the WHOLE verse, in the context of the beginning of that chapter:

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

Makes a  difference, you see?  Jesus wasn't talking about doing a job and getting paid.  He knew these guys were taking risks, and was giving them instructions to survive on as missionaries.  When you consider what they were doing, and the significant contribution they were making to humanity for thousands of years to come, "Worker is worth his wages" would imply these guys should be gazillionaires, jumping into piles of money that would make Scrooge McDuck blush!  But no, Jesus just wanted them to be well-fed, and to accept the generosity of those who would welcome them in.  This wasn't a rebuke for the payors, it was justifications for the payees to be compensated when offered.

Now of course, you might jump over to 1 Corinthians 9, where PAul answers some criticisms about freedom and describes some of his rights (yes, rights) as an apostle:

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.  If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?

Well, THAT's pretty clear on the con-bono side, until of course you get to the next verse...

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

Are you hindering by 'waiting for a paying gig'? Are you holding your gifts hostage for some little green pieces of paper?

Again, this message isn't for everyone.  Just the ones that say they are serving the higher purpose.  Do a better job finding that balance.  The rewards are not just monetary.

I was asked once, "Well, would you mow someone's lawn for free?  Would you do someone's taxes for free?  Would you shovel someone's driveway for nothing?"

Well, yes, I would, and I have.

And I never had to explain why to my family.

Before the rest of you use this to start demanding free work from artists... stay tuned for Part 3.

The Money Thing - Part 1 of 4

I've got a great deal to share about how Colossians is being received, how the comic book show circuit has been going, and how the second issue is shaping up - not to mention the imminent relaunch of Megazeen in 2013.

But first, I've got to get a little something off my chest.

Let me say first that this comic book thang, for me, has never been my bread and butter.  I am an accountant by trade and have therefore maintained a decent living off that.  I made a decision very early on, when I decided to get into this game fifteen years ago, that this would not be primarily about money, and that I would only draw comics, which I love, for a single purpose which I also love, which is my faith.

I have had several conversations dealing the money aspect of comics and art lately, and it's caused me to rethink the way I've been looking at the situation.  I am happy to report that I have not had my mind changed in the more important aspects of what we're doing, but there have been some considerations that have resulted in more opportunity for exposure for Colossians and some of my artwork in general.


For example, I was at a comic book show recently in which I was furiously cranking out fan art sketch cards - full color renderings, by the way - for free. It had never even occurred to me to charge for them.  I was just using it as a avenue to talk about my comic book work.  When people would ask about pricing, I would tell them "whatever you want, I just enjoy doing them."  So some would pay me something and others would take them for free and all was good - frankly, I was surprised I was getting money at all for doodling.

 Then, when posting some cards online, someone asked me what I was charging and I made up something based on an average of what people were paying (or not paying), which I decided was about $4 each or 3 for $10.  And when I posted that price schedule, amazingly, I sold more cards than I had ever given away.  Seems, strangely enough, that people value something more if they pay for it than if it is a gift.

After doing a couple of shows at this rate, and raking in what I thought was an impressive result, I was told by a fellow artist that I was, in fact, undercharging and selling myself short.  And so, as a test, I raised the price to a firm $5 each (which I'm still told is too little), and once again, amazingly enough, I sold more than before. 

Then as an experiment in Baltimore (our first big show in a while), I starting using a larger "canvas", drawing on comic backing boards for two, three, four times the price.  And it worked - turns out people liked the big works more, I was happier being able to put more detail into them, and they were happy walking away with it.  The money that has been coming in at these shows pays for other shows, pays for my art supplies, pays for travel expenses, pays for the artists involved in Colossians, and allows for some nice donations, rightly helping this little "hobby/ministry" break even.  As a bonus, if they bought artwork from me, I would also knock a dollar off a copy of Colossians, making it a package deal.
I was told at another recent show that I was still undercharging.  I was even told that there is a huge movement of artists who are "not getting paid" or "not getting paid enough", and implying that by undercharging, I was part of the problem.


I'm just Joe.  I draw silly pictures.  I sell some, I give some away, I charge what I want, I draw what I want and I love talking with people.  If putting a higher price tag on my table would cause someone to walk away, then consider the opportunity I've missed.  I am not the cause of your problems and I am not leading a revolution.  I will charge what I feel comfortable with and do my best to get my customer to smile.

The whole "not getting paid enough" issue leads into the next part, in which we explore what the Bible says.  YES, it says the worker is worth the wages.  But that's not ALL it says...